Not long after sunrise on Saturday, May 16, 2020, volunteers at the St. Michael Parish Food Pantry in Wauchula started filling boxes with a variety of fresh, refrigerated and frozen food in preparation for a busy morning.
Vehicles were lined up by 7 a.m., about 30 minutes before the scheduled opening and less than two hours later more than 250 families (or about 1,000 people) had been helped.
Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Servant of the Lord the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), is in charge of the food pantry and does a weekly assessment of available food and must decide how much goes into each box based on the previous week’s number. In just a few weeks, the food pantry has handed out more than five times the pre-pandemic amount, a trend that shows no signs of ending soon.
On May 16, 2020 Bishop Frank J. Dewane saw firsthand the good work being done at St. Michael Parish. The Bishop did not hesitate to jump in to assist on the assembly line, packing boxes right where Sister Alborada most needed him.
The food pantry is restocked thanks to the direct assistance of two local food banks (Feeding Tampa Bay and All Faiths Food Bank), as well as through the support of local grocers and farmers, several Diocesan Parishes and resources are augmented by weekly bulk rice and bean deliveries from Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.
Each contribution is sorted by another group of volunteers earlier in the week to make the Saturday morning routine go smoothly. Everyone helping lives locally and knows about the need in the community.
The boxes move down the packing line at a breakneck pace as vehicles pull into the driveway, trucks or tailgates open, and boxes of food are loaded. Some vehicles pick up items for elderly neighbors or those without vehicles.
When Bishop Dewane finished his shift, he took time to thank everyone for their hard work. The Bishop remarked that he was also impressed by their dedication to come out each week to volunteer to do this hard work, not just for the Parish, but for the community as a whole. “Well done!”
Each vehicle coming through the line is surveyed to learn how many people are in the household and also to ensure that the families are using all of the offered food. Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM, said that to a person, the food is much appreciated and needed.
“They say that whatever is not needed immediately is shared with elderly neighbors or other needy friends and family,” Sister Gema explained. “That is good to hear. We are pleased nothing is going to waste.”
Because the Parish is so far from the main food banks, the pantry must pay to retrieve most of the food, adding a tremendous expense. While necessary, this is beginning to impact the other assistance programs, Sister Gema explained. The Parish offers emergency financial support for unexpected expenses, an area where demand is also beginning to increase.
Sister Alborada explained that the impact of the food pantry on the community cannot be underestimated. The food provided to families, many with several children, gives them one less expense they need to worry about when money is tight. “They have children to feed, but they also have other bills to pay. We help to ensure they don’t need to make a choice between their children and some other expense.”
If you would like to help the St. Michael Parish food pantry, you can send money to St Michael Parish, c/o Food Pantry, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873, or call 863-773-4089. The Diocese of Venice is also providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select St. Michael Parish in the drop-down box (please disable your pop-up blockers).
On a beautiful early May Friday morning the line of vehicles entering the parking lot of the Bonita Springs offices of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. was growing before the first bags of food were distributed.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in what is becoming a regular routine, visited this Catholic Charities site on May 8, 2020, to show his support and learn from the staff what the last few weeks have been like and if they were getting enough support.
Food was bagged earlier in the week and everything was put on tables outside for easy distribution in what is a weekly ritual for the staff at this office on the property of St. Leo the Great Parish. Bishop Dewane assisted in the process, joining a well-organized ballet of people each tasked with loading vehicles with specific packages.
“It is rewarding to see all of the people Catholic Charities can help during this crisis,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is made possible thanks to the generosity those who support Catholic Charities in their efforts. Thank You! You are making a tremendous difference.”
Bishop Dewane first helped stack boxes of food provided by the Harry Chapin Food Bank while others brought out bagged food, grapefruits, apples and water. When the first vehicle came through the line, the bishop opted to load the half-cases of bottled water – minimum two per vehicle and more when the person was collecting food for multiple families. Bags were filled with maeseca (corn flour), rice, beans, oil and canned meats and vegetables.
Impressed by the organization and efficiency of the effort, Bishop Dewane complimented everyone for their hard work. He was told of the high demand and the uncertainty many have about future employment which result is difficult choices between buying food and paying other important bills while earning no income.
The Bonita Springs site is one of several emergency food distribution points throughout the Diocese of Venice that is being operated by Catholic Charities. In the six-week period between March 24 and April 30, 2020, Catholic Charities reported distributing 240,187 pounds of food such a canned good, rice and beans and maseca to 23,627 individuals and families. In addition, 1,185 hot meals have also been provided. In the same period, about 1,500 have called the Catholic Charities hotlines seeking a variety of additional help.
Those numbers represent a tremendous increase in outreach when compared to an average year when Catholic Charities serves some 90,000 families and individuals through 37 different programs.
“These are extraordinary times we are living in and the result is a tremendous surge in demand,” Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. “The need is not going away and growing in some areas. Please consider supporting Catholic Charities. No donation is too small as we strive to get through this crisis helping as many our brothers and sisters in Christ as we can.”
If you need help
If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:
Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.
Mondays, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee,
Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples,
Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston,
Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs,
Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers,
Saturdays, 7–8:45 a.m., St. Michael Parish, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula.
How to Help
Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is in urgent need of your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.
It is a Corporal Work of Mercy to feed the hungry, in the name of His Church. That is exactly what is being done each week at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers.
The Spanish-language Catholic community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic having endured massive layoffs across many job sectors including food service, hotels, farming and landscaping. The small food pantry has been assisting about 100 households weekly for the past seven weeks, where households consist of five to nine individuals.
Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (OSFS), Pastor of Jesus the Worker and San Jose Mission said, “there is really a tremendous need for food right now. Many don’t qualify for unemployment or stimulus checks, but they still need to feed their families.”
“We, their Church, are here for them,” Father O’Connor said. “As long as our resources last, we committed ourselves to not closing the food pantry, and to stocking it and running it ourselves. We had to reduce the days we give out food, but we have stayed open, and distribute more food to the needy than ever.”
On Tuesday mornings, the line for food begins to form long before the pantry opens. Each person with a heartbreaking story of unexpected hardship and worry about their small children. A few of those children were old enough to help carry the bags of food back to their vehicles while their mother or father carried their own heavy burdens with stoic resolve.
“We have no choice but to try to carry on,” a woman who would only identify herself as Fernanda explained. “I will make it last a long time. I don’t have any choice. God bless Father Patrick and the people here. We would be lost without the Church. This is where Jesus lives in our hearts and our community.”
Father O’Connor said the food in the pantry come from local donations, purchases from the Harry Chapin Food Pantry and from a fortuitous USDA grant that was approved only weeks before the pandemic crisis began.
“We had applied a long time ago for this program, and we were waiting for a response,” Father explained. “For me, receiving that approval and the first shipments of food – it was a miracle! We were very fortunate! It feels like God was watching out for our poor community!”
It is an unthinkable thing for the hard-working faithful of Jesus the Worker to ask for food, Father O’Connor explained. “Sometimes it is embarrassing or humiliating for them to come looking for assistance.” In such cases, he invites families to return at a different time when no one will see them.
“If that helps them feel better to be helped away from the public eye, that is okay,” he continued. “But we try to emphasize that we are a Christian community, and there are times when we help others in the community, and other times like now, when we allow the community to help us. For me, we are able to hearken back to the roots of our Church and Faith, in this time of crisis, in how we understand we should care for one another.”
If you would like to help Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, please send contributions to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905, call 239-693-5333 or visit the Parish website at https://jesustheworker.org/ and click on the English button to translate the page. In addition, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select Jesus the Worker Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).
The Parish Hall at St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston is always a bustling place, filled with people celebrating events or taking religious education classes. In recent weeks, the building has been converted into a makeshift storage and packing area.
The Parish Hall is where donated food is stored and bagged in preparation for distribution into the community to the growing number of needy families who would normally be in the fields as migrant farm workers. The food is mostly courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., as well as from St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Donations from the parishioners of St. Margaret are also a big help.
Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of St. Margaret Parish and Santa Rosa de Lima Mission serving nearby Montura Ranch Estates, is overseeing the work. Father Batista has the help of two religious sisters and a few volunteers, all systematically sorting through what food they have and then deciding what goes in the bags for distribution.
On April 25, 2020, Sister Maria Mercedes Rodríguez-Gomes, Missionary Sister of Our Lady of the Light, and Roxana Paniagua loaded several vans and went into the neighborhoods to distribute bags of food. The families assisted in this manner do not have access to transportation and most have been out of work for several weeks.
The bags were filled with rice, beans and pasta, FEMA supplied Meals Ready to Eat, maseca (corn meal to make tortillas), and whatever canned food they might have. Cereal, dried milk and snacks are added for the children. When fresh vegetables and fruits are available, they are included in the distribution. The food is selected to offer families staples that can be stretched to feed families for an extended period of time.
At each stop, families receiving the food shared stories about how they had no warning before losing their work as pickers in nearby vegetable fields. Several families said they were running out of money and rent was due.
Most of the recipients wanted to give hugs to Paniagua and Sister Mercedes but, while wearing a mask and gloves, they explained that the smiling faces and words of gratitude offered were enough thanks.
One mother said she is heartbroken having to accept the offered food, something she has never done. She is worried about her young children who don’t understand what is happening and ask why they cannot have treats from the store.
Meanwhile, some refused the offered food. One mother said her husband was still working in the sugar fields so they had money and the food should go elsewhere. Sister Mercedes was grateful for their honesty but told each of these families to reach out if things changed as the field work was scheduled to end in the coming weeks.
Father Batista explained that most of the community consists of migrant farm workers who toil in vegetable and sugar fields. Nearly all the vegetable farms shut down operations by late April while the sugar field would be closed by mid-May as happens every year.
However, because of the pandemic, the migrant farm workers have nowhere to go. Most would travel north to work in fields in New England or the Midwest. Travel restrictions are preventing them from going. Another group of workers, who are in Clewiston on temporary work visas, normally would return to their home country after the growing season, but this year, there is no international travel allowed, leaving them with an uncertain future.
“All of these workers have to stay here, without jobs, paying rent and buying food, consuming what they earned this season,” Father Batista explained, noting that migrant farm workers do not qualify for any of the assistance being offered by the state or federal governments. “This is going to be very tough on the families. I’m not sure what is going to happen.”
Catholic Charities, which has a small office at St. Margaret Parish, has been offering a Thursday morning outdoor food distribution. Staff and volunteers load vehicles and in just a few weeks Father Batista said the number of people seeking help has quadrupled.
“I have never seen it this bad,” Father Batista said. “The number of people impacted is so high and growing. There is no relief in sight until these farm workers can find work somewhere else and that might not be until the next growing season here in Clewiston in the fall. If that happens, it would be devastating.”
While Masses and liturgical events in the Diocese of Venice remain suspended, Churches are beginning to open for individual prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Public gatherings for Mass or other Liturgical Services will still not be possible. Restrictions regarding social distancing, sanitizing of hands and often-touched surfaces, as well as protective masks by visitors must be followed. Please check with your Parish for details.
Act of Spiritual Communion
It has long been a Catholic understanding that when circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion means uniting one’s self in prayer with Christ’s sacrifice and worshiping Him in His Body and Blood.
The most common reason for making an Act of Spiritual Communion is when a person cannot attend Mass, as is the case during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Acts of Spiritual Communion increase our desire to receive sacramental Communion and help us avoid the sins that would make us unable to receive Holy Communion worthily.
For all who will not be able to receive the Holy Eucharist in person, consider this special prayer, an Act of Spiritual Communion:
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
A special coronavirus webpage is located on the Diocese of Venice website homepage at www.dioceseofvenice.org.
Resources include links to the Mass, the prayer for Act of the Spiritual Communion, videos of the Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Chaplet and Pray the Rosary by following the links for the Diocese response to Coronavirus included on the Diocese homepage. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, www.usccb.org, also posts the daily Mass readings.
The Diocese of Venice Mass is streamed live at 9:15 a.m. daily from the Catholic Center in Venice. Meanwhile, Mass is being streamed live from many Parishes daily (some on weekends only) throughout the Diocese of Venice (See updated list on Diocese website). Most streams are available with links through the Parish websites or through Facebook (to watch a live stream on Facebook, you do not need an account) or YouTube. Check with your Parish if you are having trouble finding the Mass or for more details.
The Televised Mass for the Homebound is available throughout the Diocese each Sunday. In northern parts of the Diocese (Manatee, Highlands, Hardee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Charlotte counties) the Mass airs on television at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Collier, Lee, Glades, Hendry, Charlotte counties) the Mass airs at 10:30 a.m., on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). This same Mass can be found on the Diocese of Venice website, www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass. Please check local listings for channel information.
During this challenging time in the life and mission of the Diocese of Venice, our Parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects on everyday life. Parishes depend on weekly financial gifts to continue their ministries, especially in this critical time of crisis.
The Faithful may also contribute through their usual channels (e.g., envelopes, and through the Parish online giving option). Together we will navigate through this crisis, provide assistance to those in need, and secure the road ahead for the Parishes within the Diocese of Venice.
Please continue to pray for the repose of those who have died, for the recovery of those who are sick, for the strength of healthcare workers and caregivers, as well as for an end to this health crisis. Thank you for your generosity.
Prayer Against Coronavirus
Lord Jesus Christ, our Divine physician, we ask you to guard and protect us from Coronavirus COVID-19 and all serious illness. For all that have died from it, have mercy; for those that are ill now, bring healing. For those searching for a remedy, enlighten them; for medical caregivers helping the sick, strengthen and shield them. For those working to contain the spread, grant them success; for the afraid, grant peace. May your precious blood be our defense and salvation. By your grace, may you turn the evil of disease into moments of consolation and hope. May we always fear the contagion of sin more than any illness. We abandon ourselves to you infinite. Amen
By Pedro de la Cruz
Oración contra el Coronavirus
Señor Jesucristo, nuestro Médico Divino, te pedimos que nos guardes y protejas del Coronavirus COVID-19 y de toda enfermedad grave. Por todos los que han perdido la vida por causa del virus, ten piedad; por los que están enfermos ahora, sánalos. Por los que buscan su cura, ilumínalos; por el personal médico que cuida de los enfermos, fortalécelos y protéjelos. Por los que trabajan para contener al virus, que sean existosos; por los que temen dáles la paz. Que tu preciosa sangre sea nuestro escudo y salvación. Por tu gracia, convierte a la maldad de esta enfermedad en momentos de consuelo y esperanza. Que siempre temamos más al contagió del pecado que al de cualquier enfermedad. Nos entregamos a tu infinita misericordia. Amén.
By Pedro de la Cruz
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Protection from the Coronavirus
Holy Virgin of Guadalupe,
Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas.
We fly to you today as your beloved children.
We ask you to intercede for us with your Son,
as you did at the wedding in Cana.
Pray for us, loving Mother,
and gain for our nation and world,
and for all our families and loved ones,
the protection of your holy angels,
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.
For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.
In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.
We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate mother,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.
Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus.
Courtesy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Oración a Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe para la Protección del Coronavirus
Virgen Santísima de Guadalupe,
Reina de los Ángeles y Madre de las Américas.
Acudimos a ti hoy como tus amados hijos.
Te pedimos que intercedas por nosotros con tu Hijo,
como lo hiciste en las bodas de Caná.
Ruega por nosotros, Madre amorosa,
y obtén para nuestra nación, nuestro mundo,
y para todas nuestras familias y seres queridos,
la protección de tus santos ángeles,
para que podamos salvarnos de lo peor de esta enfermedad.
Para aquellos que ya están afectados,
te pedimos que les concedas la gracia de la sanación y
Escucha los gritos de aquellos que son vulnerables y temerosos,
seca sus lágrimas y ayúdalos a confiar.
En este tiempo de dificultad y prueba,
enséñanos a todos en la Iglesia a amarnos los unos a los otros
y a ser pacientes y amables.
Ayúdanos a llevar la paz de Jesús a nuestra tierra y a nuestros
Acudimos a ti con confianza, sabiendo que realmente eres
nuestra madre compasiva,
la salud de los enfermos y la causa de nuestra alegría.
Refúgianos bajo el manto de tu protección, mantennos
en el abrazo de tus brazos,
ayúdanos a conocer siempre el amor de tu Hijo, Jesús.
Cortesía de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de EE. UU.
Father Onorio Benacchio, Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles (Scalabrinians), who was a priest for nearly 70 years and served in the Diocese of Venice for 25 years, died April 23, 2020, in Kingston, Rhode Island. He was 95.
Father Benacchio served as Pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston from 1994 to 1996 and then as a Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee from 1996 to 2019.
Born April 15, 1925 in South Nazario, Vicenza, Italy, to Gaetano and Caterina Benacchio, it was at the age of 12 when he entered the Scalabrinian Seminary in his hometown. Father Benacchio took his first religious vows on Sept. 4, 1943, and was ordained to the priesthood, June 18, 1950 in Piacenza, Italy, when he was 25.
Following his ordination, Father was appointed to serve the poor in missions in South America in accordance with the Scalabrinian Charism. He spent 36 years attending to the needs of the missions in Brazil and then eight years in Venezuela.
He came to the United States and the Diocese of Venice in 1994. He was 69 at the time. He served as Pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston before being transferred for the final time in his long ministry to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee. There he celebrated Mass is English, Spanish and Creole, while also celebrating Mass for the Portuguese-language Catholic community each weekend in Fort Myers.
During a Mass marking the occasion of his 65th anniversary of his Ordination to the Priesthood, Father Benacchio estimated he had celebrated Mass more than 25,000 times. “But celebrating Mass today, after so many years, still feels like it is the first time… It is what I do, what I always do and what I will always do. It is at the heart of what a priest is all about, that moment when you are closest to Jesus Christ.”
His favorite memories included his extensive time and travels in South America. To help relax, he liked to write poetry.
A memorial Mass will be held at a later date while the public celebration of Mass has been suspended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. food pantries have become a beacon of hope in a storm of darkness – serving ever-increasing numbers of desperate families each week in response to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
A long line of vehicles was waiting before the first bags of food were distributed on April 17, 2020, at the Elizabeth Kay Galeana (EKG) Center in Fort Myers.
Unlike when a hurricane strikes, a time when help comes from outside the region, no help can be found, except from Catholic Charities.
The story from individuals and families in the vehicles was a common one – sudden job loss and no idea when work will be found. Words like “challenging” “hard” “difficult” and “overwhelming” were frequently used to describe how they are currently feeling. With restricted income, families must make difficult choices as many large bills for shelter and transportation come due each month.
As they received their food, a bag filled with basic necessities that was previously taken for granted by many, the kindness and appreciation expressed was moving and genuine with many saying, “God bless you!” and from others a simple “Thank you!” came across with great feeling and meaning.
One woman, who walked to the facility with her two grandchildren, said she was in desperate need for food as there is no money coming in and her grandchildren are home from school. This added burden is impacting many families who would normally rely on school lunch programs for children to account for at least one meal a day.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane visited the EKG Center on April 17, 2020, assisting with the loading of vehicles as a part of the distribution operation. The Bishop also offered words of encouragement to the staff and volunteers. While there, Bishop witnessed the desperation in some, but was heartened by the gratitude for what was being offered.
“The need is real and this food pantry, as well as others like it across the Diocese, is made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors,” Bishop Dewane said. “I am personally grateful for the generosity of so many. I want to say, ‘Thank you!’ to those who have helped already, and I appeal for continued support during this pandemic response. Remember, no gift is too small – your combined generosity will go a long way toward helping our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Bishop Dewane was impressed by the operation and wanted to ensure the workers and volunteers had all they needed, including masks and gloves for their own safety.
Until early March, Catholic Charities food pantries required the filling out of paperwork and limitations on receiving food to once a month. Now, each driver is asked their name and the age of everyone in their family. Further down the line, the bags of food are placed in trunks or the beds of trucks. If a family is larger, they receive more food.
Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said Catholic Charities has greatly expanded its food pantry operations across multiple counties to meet this growing need.
“During the last six weeks, our pantries have provided food and water to (more than 13,300) individuals and families, far more than the same period last year – and we anticipate this figure to continue climbing,” Pereira said. “Also concerning is the marked increase in demand for food resources in areas like Bonita Springs and Clewiston, where we have served up to 225 percent more families than the same period in 2019. The need is here, and it is significant. Catholic Charities, with the support of Bishop Dewane, is committed to continue to meet those needs.”
In addition to Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Clewiston, there are Catholic Charities food distribution points in Arcadia, Immokalee, Naples and Sarasota. While some of these locations are on a smaller scale – directly targeting specific vulnerable communities – there are five which offer drive-thru distribution each Friday morning. Additional Parish-based food banks are also operating in Bradenton, Wauchula and Fort Myers.
Included in the bags of food is a combination of basics – rice, beans, flour, pasta – and whatever else is on hand for distribution, such as canned fruits and vegetables, cereal, sauces, peanut butter, etc. Water is distributed when requested and fresh food, such as bread, vegetables and juice are only available in limited quantities.
It is unclear just how high the demand will get, as each week the lines at the EKG Center in Fort Myers, as well as at all the food pantries, have been getting exponentially longer.
Pereira said a major challenge in keeping up with demand is that traditionally reliable sources for food, such as local Food Banks, as well as from state and federal emergency relief agencies, have little to offer because of overwhelming demand. This has required Catholic Charities to buy bulk food where it can be found.
“This is adding a huge cost that is unexpected for us, but absolutely necessary to meet the demand,” Pereira said. To help support Catholic Charities, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate.
Vania Vasquez appeared at the office of Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee hoping to get some food for her family.
Joined by her daughter, Liliana, Vasquez was happy to be presented with two large bags of dry goods, and others bags with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, breads and sweets.
“Thank you,” she said with a gracious smile to the Catholic Charities workers who were busy on April 3, 2020, handing out food to needy families. “This means so much to my family. Times are very difficult.”
Those kind words have been echoing across the region as Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. has seen a massive increase in demand for services as people are suddenly laid-off from jobs due the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Catholic Charities has put its resources and focus into the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and tele-mental health counseling.
Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said the newly established regional toll-free numbers will better streamline the requests for help, often from increasingly desperate people.
“The numbers are very high and going up every day,” Pereira said. “The tenacity of our staff who are working on the front lines is amazing as they help lighten the burden of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are most in need. I know that God is watching over us.”
Food distribution points in Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Immokalee have had huge demand with staff putting bags of food into the trunks of thousands of vehicles, all while maintaining appropriate social distancing.
As the state order to stay home expanded beginning April 3, Pereira said more and more people will lose work and the requests for food will transition into more families desperate for financial assistance. Compounding the problem is that many of the neediest people Catholic Charities assists each year did not have a financial cushion to fall back on before the pandemic crisis started.
Catholic Charities has long-provided assistance to individuals and families for emergency medicals bills, rent/mortgage payments and utilities. However, the pandemic crisis is creating demand from people who would not normally need assistance.
“You have some families with both wage earners furloughed, laid off, fewer hours, or maybe one needs to stay home with school-aged children,” she explained. “That was just the first wave of people who lost jobs and they have no idea when work will be available again. Catholic Charities is in this for the long haul. We will be there.”
Peggy Rodriguez, the Program Director of Guadalupe Social Services, said there have been many people who wish to volunteer, but a system to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and clients is still being worked out.
“The way people can help is to send a check, any amount will help, because the need is great and every dollar adds up to make the difference in the lives of the children, families and individuals who seek assistance from Catholic Charities,” Rodriguez said.
How to help
Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. need your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.
If you need help
If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:
Bishop Frank J. Dewane has been at the forefront in responding to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic within the 10-county Diocese of Venice.
The announcement to suspend all Masses and Parish activities effective March 20, and continuing through at least Easter, was the culmination of a series of meetings, conference calls and consultation from the priests of the Diocese and other advisors, while also following guidance from local, state and federal officials. The dramatic limitations of all public gatherings ultimately affected the decision to suspend Mass.
In a March 18 letter to the faithful, Bishop Dewane explained his decision noting that it “was made after prayer and discernment, as well as hearing from the priests and the Faithful.” The decision to suspend the Mass came several days after Bishop Dewane dispensed all of the obligation to attend Mass during the same period.
“This is acknowledged as a sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives,” the Bishop wrote in his letter. “Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis. Tomorrow, on the Feast of St. Joseph, I will dedicate the Diocese of Venice to the care of the Foster Father of Jesus. Let us be united in prayer to St. Joseph for his intercession and protection.”
In the same March 18 letter, Bishop Dewane announced the suspension of all activities in Parishes, including events and religious education programs. Parish offices will have limited staff and it is requested that, when possible, business be conducted by phone or email. Funerals will be limited to immediate family only, weddings – if they cannot be postponed – are to have limited participation, and baptisms will only be celebrated in cases of emergency. Priests are required to take all necessary precautions, so the Anointing of the Sick is being limited to a genuine need for the dying. Diocesan Catholic Schools were placed on an extended Spring Break, returning to virtual learning beginning March 31 for the foreseeable future.
Bishop Dewane has called upon the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.
Leading the way, Bishop Dewane recorded a video message to the Faithful encouraging everyone to turn toward prayer. In addition, Mass has aired daily at 9:15 a.m., live from the Catholic Center in Venice, with the Bishop as the celebrant. This Mass in available through Facebook and links to this and many other resources are available through the Diocesan website.
Encouraged by the leadership of Bishop Dewane, most Parishes within the Diocese have begun to live stream the daily Mass on their websites and social media accounts. Many also responded to suggestions to begin offering the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by car beginning March 21, and then late in the week of March 23, outdoor Communion was being offered at some Parishes.
Bishop Dewane also reassured the Faithful that the Diocese will continue to function and serve the community through the outreach of Catholic Charities and other ministries.
“Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us,” Bishop Dewane said.
“Please continue to pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times,” the Bishop continued. “Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead.”
Operations pivot to focus on providing food, financial assistance and mental health counselling
The motto of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is: “Providing Help. Creating Hope. Serving All.” Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the staff of Catholic Charities is living that motto on the front lines of helping people throughout the 10-county Diocese.
With a long history within communities across the region, Catholic Charities is putting its resources and focus on the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and telehealth mental health counseling.
“Catholic Charities is here to help those in need during this challenging time and ramping up its efforts to enhance support programs,” said Philomena Pereira, Catholic Charities CEO. “We have adjusted our focus to help in ways that will make the greatest difference to those in greatest need: food, financial assistance as well as mental health counselling.”
Before the pandemic, Catholic Charities already assisted tens of thousands of individuals and families with a variety of support services. That broad effort focused on providing people with not just a helping hand, but a help up toward stability. With the onset of the pandemic, the focus is on ensuring the neediest, in the communities serviced by Catholic Charities, are not forgotten and can get the emergency help they need.
“The loss of jobs in the community is having a big impact,” Pereira explained. “Many of the people we see live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the sudden closure of so many businesses at once is devastating.”
As the situation has developed the leadership of Catholic Charities, in consultation with Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Board of Directors, has worked to ensure that the critical needs within the community continue and are in key areas are enhanced.
Stressed during this time is to make sure all appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all clients, volunteers, staff and community.
The initial effort of Catholic Charities included strategically purchasing food and distributing supplies to food pantries located throughout the Diocese. This was and will continue to be done through existing long-term food banks and other reliable sources. A large donation of rice and beans from Cheney Bros. Inc. in Punta Gorda helped to supplement other purchases.
Food distribution will take place ONLY at existing pantry locations in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples and Immokalee. Clients will receive a pre-packaged bag or box of food items for their family and arrangements are being made to ensure both those distributing and those receiving food remain healthy and a safe distance apart. Additional food distribution points are also being established at select parishes in the Eastern Deanery.
Catholic Charities is also working to provide financial assistance for those in need. Financial assistance may include utility payments, prescription medication, or other critical needs. Persons in need will be exclusively assisted by phone for the foreseeable future.
In addition, Tele-Mental Health Counseling will be available for existing Catholic Charities clients, on a limited basis, using phone or videoconferencing.
During this crisis, Catholic Charities has established three toll free numbers for people needing assistance available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. (Please have patience as the demand for assistance is high.) The numbers are as follows:
Until further notice, Catholic Charities is restricting its offices to staff only. Services for persons in need will be assisted by phone.
While Catholic Charities relies heavily on volunteers, at this time, all volunteers are currently being asked to refrain from coming to offices unless otherwise notified. For questions about volunteering, please refer to your area-specific number listed above for assistance.
Additional steps include the suspension of shower services and clothing donations until further notice. Further, two major fundraisers, the Emerald Ball and the AFCAAM golf tournament were indefinitely postponed.
If you want to help, our food supply is the most important! Our pantry locations plan to deliver food to roughly 2,000 households across the 10 counties in the Diocese of Venice over the next several weeks. Funds to purchase food are greatly appreciated! You can help Catholic Charities respond swiftly and provide assistance to those in need by donating today at www,catholiccharitiesdov.org.
“Catholic Charities relies on the support of its generous donors and they can be assured that their contributions will go immediately to support those in the community in greatest need,” Pereira said.
Catholic Charities food pantry distribution sites (Please call ahead for distribution times and requirements.):
Bethesda House – 1670 4th Street, Sarasota, 844-385-2407;
Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry – 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers, 844-385-2423;
Bonita Springs (at St. Leo the Great Parish) – 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, 844-385-2423;
Judy Sullivan Center Family Resource Center– 3174 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, 844-385-2404;
Guadalupe Social Services – 211 South 9th Street, Immokalee, 844-385-2404.